It was a year of false charges and lives put on hold. Finally, the families heard yesterday what they knew to be the truth all along — that their sons were innocent of raping a stripper who had performed at men's lacrosse team party.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper on Wednesday dropped all charges against the players. "This case shows the enormous consequences of overreaching by a prosecutor," Cooper said, adding that the three athletes were railroaded by a district attorney who ignored increasingly flimsy evidence in a "tragic rush to accuse."
"Until I heard the words, it was hard to feel those words. And it was — it's obviously an incredibly emotional moment for us," Mary Ellen Finnerty, the mother of Collin, told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "When the word 'innocent' was spoken, every person in that room stood up and cheered. We were so — that's what we had hoped and prayed and dreamed of."
"Honestly," Collin's father, Kevin Finnerty said, "I don't think that anyone really, really expected him to come across that clearly, that expressly and that courageously. So, it was really an awesome moment for us. As parents, we're hugely appreciative for him being that crystal clear about the boys' innocence. And I — and I really think that it springs them. It lets them get on with their life, it sets the record straight."
Mary Ellen Finnerty said she didn't remember her son saying anything in particular, but he was crying.
"We were crying, hugging, you know, I — I think it was just a — such a sensitive moment, and — just blew us away," she said.
At the press conference, Collin Finnerty said the ordeal brought his family closer than anything else in his life.
The Finnertys had confidence in his innocence, but at the same time, for the past year, the specter hung over the family that he could go to prison for as long as 30 years.
"Many times, I'd say to the lawyers, 'I feel like there's a madman chasing my son down the street and there's nothing I can do to stop it,' " Mary Ellen Finnerty said. "It's your child, and it was incredibly frightening, not to be able to take control of the situations and — and fix it."
In terms of how they feel about former district attorney Mike Nifong, who led the prosecution of the three Duke lacrosse players, she said there is so much emotion there. She has trouble understanding how Nifong, a parent, could use those boys for his own gain.
"I see what he has put our family through, let alone the other families," Kevin Finnerty said. "I feel like we're a religious people, and yet, in this case, I have little room in my heart for forgiveness for the D.A. I don't think I need an apology. I think there are people who might feel a need to apologize, but we got from Roy Cooper what we wanted and that really is what it's all about."
The ordeal the three players went through made them aware of some harsh realities. They had access to good lawyers, but many people who stand accused of crimes do not enjoy the same advantages.
"I think that awareness will make them — ourselves, our families — much more involved going forward, trying to help people that are falsely accused," Mary Ellen Finnerty said. "Well, I thought this kind of thing didn't happen in America. I guess I was a little naïve, as you just said, 'cause obviously it does. But, sometimes, it was hard to believe that we were living in a country where you supposedly innocent until proven guilty. Those words just didn't seem to be our reality for most of this year."
Kevin Finnerty said his family endured something that no one should ever have to face.
"We have a lot of pieces of our lives to pick up," he said. "It's not just gonna go back to normal tomorrow. And I think that's one of the things that was talked about with Colin. And I know the other families have, as well, is — is some sort of larger initiative for the greater good. That we can — that the boys can get behind. And — and I think, hopefully, there will be a lot of good that can come out of this."